Steve Jones’ Say

AS midnight approached on 31 December 1999, the world held its breath. We were about to witness an almighty meltdown as computers and systems were sent into a tailspin. Mainframes, servers and the rest of the tech world were, apparently, about to be flummoxed by the digits 2000, the start of the new century.

No such meltdown occurred, the so-called “Millennium Bug” nothing more than a wheezy cold. As much as I willed ATMs to drop their defences and spew cash into the street, no matter how much I longed for my newsroom at the time to shut down the moment Big Ben struck midnight (I was on a horrible night shift), nothing happened. The world carried on turning, ATMs remained secure and my computer was unmoved, blinking at me as it always did. Despite the Y2K hysteria, I knew it would be so.

It would be inaccurate to say I stayed up past midnight on 31 July this year, but the date of 1 August didn’t go unnoticed in my household.

It was, of course, the day Qantas switched on the Qantas Channel, the dawning of a new era of distribution. Talk has persisted of “rich content”, personalised fares, frequent flyer benefits, more efficient and greater opportunities for agents. 31 July was old way, the antiquated way. 1 August was the Qantas Channel way, the way of the future.

Except it doesn’t seem that way, not yet anyway. Just as 1 January 2000 was a non-event as far as technology was concerned, so too the advent of the Qantas Channel. All reports suggest it’s very much a case of ‘as you were’.

As one far-from-happy agent told me: “Basically 1 August was when we lost revenue and nothing was delivered in return. There was nothing in the QF channel at all.”

Perhaps over time, as this rich content is rolled out, agents will see the benefits and be able to monetise it through enhanced levels of customer service. Yet it all seems so indiscernible. The phrase hot air springs to mind. Exactly what is this rich content, and how, in practice, will it benefit agents?

As for consumers, how many will really benefit from agents’ ability to access frequent flyer information? The vast majority of passengers aren’t wealthy gold members who jet off here, there and everywhere, but families who simply want the cheapest fare. Amid the talk of frequent flyer status points, lounge access and upgrades, we often lose sight of the average traveller who just wants a well-earned break at the best possible price.

Additionally, how can 1 August have come and gone yet agents have so many unanswered concerns about the Qantas Distribution Platform?

Tony O’Connor, director of the Global Business Travel Association, writing in Travel Daily, listed a host of questions and articulated an “uneasy feeling about where we’re going”. You can be sure he’s not alone.

 

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